Modernist abstraction meant the reduction of visible elements in an object. This process of simplification was further pursued by conceptual art, in which material presence had to be reconstructed mentally, through language. Camilla Løw folds a conceptualist method back into the history of abstraction. In the past few years the young Norwegian has drawn notice for her leaning and suspended sculptures—geometric pictures with no plane that give the impression of stumbling into a three-dimensional Kandinsky.
In the Glasgow-based artist’s first show in London, she retraces 20th-century developments in art through compositions that stand midway between painting and sculpture. Focusing on the role and constitution of the object, her strategy seems to lean towards the rigorous formalist principles of modernist godfathers such as Clive Bell but in reality, it follows less conventional schemes. She expands her former style to intoxicate the purist views of abstract modernism and, tricking such mannerisms with their own means, suggests a DIY attempt to open visual perception with a group of static objects that, whether hanging or free-standing, precariously rise upright. These mainly consist of painted wooden sticks assembled in long and lean rectangular shapes of varying scale and format.
‘Viva’ (2004) seems to have a go at Scandinavian domestic furniture although its shape is perhaps more reminiscent of a handcrafted necklace tumbling down onto the floor. In both ‘Lectro’ and ‘Magneto’ (2004), a silhouette is interrupted while floating on the bare architecture of the gallery, which acts as backdrop to intensify the lightness of their design and brilliancy of the palette. In ‘Xerox’ (2004) a pair of lozenges show the same structure and format apart from a detail: the most external segment has migrated from the black to the bright yellow, made of Perspex, and vice versa. The plot repeats.
All these are clearly reminiscent of De Stijl and Concrete Art but they also intuitively consider the fact that now, there are no mysteries about the object anymore and that quotation has worn down modernism. Yet no direct recycling of sources appears in this exhibition. What can be perceived instead is Løw’s inspiration from pioneering ideas by artists as different as the British sculptor Henry Moore with his concept of the hole having equal status to solid mass and the American conceptualist Robert Barry’s interest in the void and emptiness as the most potent things in the world. In this sense she shares the same commitment to her style as the Swiss artist John Armleder did to Neo-Geo, when he started making para-Suprematist paintings that sardonically demystified Theo van Doesburg’s straight lines. But differently from the 1980’s appropriationist for whom surface was all, the young artist wises up to the concealed aspects behind abstract objects.
According to the Czech philosopher Vilém Flusser, the word ‘design’ occurs in contexts associated with cunning and deceit: beyond the creation of harmonious graphic effects, all the works at Sutton Lane erupt with a claustrophobic sense of gravity eclipsing symbiotic relations in art and life. Neither discoveries nor inventions but containers for feeling, Løw’s sculptures pervert the idealism implied in their vertical and diagonal orientations, their total perspective in which lines meet through space, and their basic colours, as in the case of an oily, glossy black varnish alternating with bright blue, green and yellow as ‘impure’ as the tones of poison. In evidence that the heroic and orderly systems of 20th century abstraction have now expired in contemporary artists’ appreciation for electronic music and movie culture, one is left with signs of grace and the desire to wait for magic ciphers of things to come.
Diana Baldon is an Italian freelance curator working in London